The hashtag has become a household term. Such is the pervasiveness of social media that we all know what it is. Even if we are not on it, we still seem to know what’s “trending” and what has recently gone “viral”.
It has even been used in recent times to achieve social outcomes for the better. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the aftermath of the Martin Place siege of 2014 and the #illridewithyou campaign. It all started when one person was so affected by the tragedy that she was moved to make a positive statement on her Facebook account. A few short hours later, her actions had turned into an inspiring global campaign, pledging support for the Muslim community.
It is not surprising then that marketers are falling over themselves to harness some of the potency of social media for promotion, brand awareness, market research, and the list goes on. And it’s not just the marketers, but business owners generally who are educating themselves and becoming more strategic in harnessing the opportunities that social media presents.
If social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter are the landscape, then the “hash” symbol (#) must surely be a signpost. It guides and directs inhabitants to where they need to go to find the information they are looking for and sharing with others who are looking for the same thing.
The hashtag has become a powerful tool for social media presence and advertising campaigns. In the US recently, Coca-Cola applied for a trademark for the terms #cokecanpics and #smilewithacan. It remains to be seen how Coca-Cola will use these trademarks as part of its marketing strategy, but it will certainly have the means to expand its social media presence and strengthen its brand awareness.
As with registering any other kind of trademark, your proposed hashtag trademark needs to be original. You will still need to search if anyone else has registered that trademark or one similar.
Your proposed hashtag trademark needs to serve as a source indicator of the goods or services you are providing. If it is merely descriptive or organises information (a virtual index of sorts), it cannot be functionally distinguished from any other hashtags on social media.
Use of your trademark hashtag
It is important to keep in mind that your hashtag trademark will not necessarily stop others from using it on social media. Like a trademark of your business name or logo, your hashtag trademark will stop others in your industry from using it to compete with you or represent that they are associated with you. If they are using your hashtag trademark as a descriptor or taking part in social media conversation, then this will not be a breach.
Trademark hashtags are unquestionably on the rise. Even if you don’t intend to register a hashtag trademark, and you just want to use the hashtag for your next social media campaign, it’s a good idea to check to see if the hashtag is already in use and what it is associated with.
Trademarking a hashtag can be a valuable part of your overall IP strategy. Just as you would register a trademark of your business name or logo and register the domain name of your future business website before it is taken by someone else, it is a good idea to register a hashtag trademark connected with your business ready for future use.
The trademark application process is detailed and complicated to navigate. Regardless of what you are hoping to register, an experienced trademark and IP lawyer can be your (and your business’) best friend in creating an effective IP strategy.